For many of us, carpet is still the top choice of flooring, whether it is for its superior insulation, its softness or even just it’s “look”. But choosing carpet need not mean irresponsibility towards the environment. Many of us are taking care to choose carpets made of natural fibres or recycled materials and installed without the use of toxic adhesives and other chemicals.
However, carpet – whatever the kind – tends to trap dust, soil and debris, especially anything tracked in from outdoors on the soles of shoes and the paws of our pets. It can also harbour a host of allergens such as pet dander and hair, mould spores, dust mites and pollen, as well as toxic particles from the carpet fibres themselves.
To tackle all this ingrained dirt, a deep professional clean is often recommended but there are many who now believe that pouring more toxic chemicals onto the carpet is not the answer – in fact, one wonders if some carpet cleaning is simply focused on improving appearance with little attention to real removal of pollutants. Many of us are now recognising that traditional methods of carpet cleaning often involve the use of many toxic agents which are harmful both to the environment and also to our own health – and so we are now pushing for more eco-friendly methods of carpet cleaning.
Carpet Cleaning – the Old Way…
Traditionally, commercial carpet cleaners use a wide range of chemicals in their cleaning solutions, producing a powerful cocktail of toxic agents to tackle the stains and ingrained dirt in carpets. The waste water from these cleaning processes often requires filtration or treatment to neutralise the toxins but instead, these solutions are often disposed of inappropriately (such as down the drain) and go on to pollute vital groundwater systems.
Many domestic cleaning products use non-ionic surfactants which are not easily biodegradable, especially in the anaerobic conditions found in many waterways, and they leave contaminants which ultimately pollute and poison the entire surrounding environment and its inhabiting species.
Furthermore, not only are these cleaning products hazardous for the environment, they can be bad for our own health too. For example, one common chemical in traditional cleaning solutions is perchloroethylene (“perc”) which has a notorious reputation of causing nausea, dizziness and fatigue when inhaled, as well as being potentially linked to kidney and liver damage.
Similarly, another solvent sometimes used – called naphthalene – is suspected to be toxic to the human central nervous system and even to be a possible carcinogen! Traces of these toxic chemicals are left on the carpet after each clean and since many of them are volatile, they can easily infiltrate the atmosphere in the room – or the entire house – as well as being ingested by any children playing on the floor.
A New Approach to Carpet Cleaning
New attitudes to environmental safety as well as concern for personal health have put pressure on commercial cleaners to adopt a more eco-friendly approach, which does not use harsh chemicals. We now want to have clean carpets without sacrificing our health or the health of the environment around us.
In response to this, a new breed of carpet-cleaning professionals have emerged, who boycott hazardous and polluting chemicals and promote the use of more natural methods of cleaning, with more natural products. They have shown that it is possible to produce as high a standard of cleaning as traditional methods when using powerful water extraction equipment combined with 100% biodegradable, plant-based cleaning agents which are non-toxic and safe for the environment.
While you may have to make some effort to find them, it is now possible to find specialist companies that devote themselves to eco-friendly carpet cleaning. They use plant-based cleaning products which contain enzymes, fatty acids, alcohols, esters, chelators and saponifiers derived from things like palm kernel, soy, peanut, corn, sunflower and canola. These create surfactants which use the natural chemistry of hydrophilic and hydrophobic bonds to attract oils, penetrate organic soils and hold dirt in a liquid suspension, which can then be extracted by powerful machines with high vacuum power.
In effect, the natural cleaning solutions repel any molecules of lipids, fats, oils, sugars and proteins from the carpet surface , so that they are suspended in solution and can then be rinsed away. In addition, more powerful heat exchangers in these machines help to cut through grease and provide more thorough cleaning, without the use of harsh chemicals, as well as faster drying times.
Other Ways to Help…
It’s worth bearing in mind that there is a lot you can do on an everyday level to keep your carpets clean, so that you do not always have to get it professionally-cleaned as often. Just maintaining a regular, thorough vacuuming regime, using a powerful vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, will help prevent dirt from building up. Tackle any spots and stains with home-made, non-toxic cleaning solutions such as white vinegar and water or, for tougher stains, an overnight paste of borax, salt and vinegar, which can be vacuumed up in the morning.
Use mats at entrance ways and doorways to help trap dirt and prevent it being embedded into the carpet. Removing shoes can also help as well as making sure that dirty paws are cleaned before being allowed free access to the carpet. Naturally, all carpets will require a periodic professional clean to maintain their condition but by keeping them clean on a regular basis, you can minimse the need and by choosing eco-friendly cleaners, you can minimise damage to both your own health and the environment.